Constructing Fantastical Worlds from Antiquity to the Present

deadline for submissions: 
March 15, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
University of Amsterdam

Constructing Fantastical Worlds: from Antiquity to the Present

University of Amsterdam, Thursday 30th June– Friday 1st July 2022

Keynote Speakers: Dr Benjamin Stevens (Trinity University) and Dr Rutger Allan (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) 

This interdisciplinary two-day workshop is devoted to the construction of fantastical worlds across various narrative media from antiquity to the present. 

In recent years, media and literary studies have drawn attention to the process of constructing ‘imaginary’ or ‘secondary’ worlds. We define these fantastical universes as fictional worlds that involve creatures and/or events whose existence and/or occurrence is impossible in our actual world. Being often heterotopic and heterochronic and endowed with their own geographies, populations, histories, governments, etc., fantastical worlds may in complex ways reflect, contrast, and/or transcend ordinary reality.

Yet while this phenomenon is generally considered to originate in Tolkien, fantastical worldbuilding can be recognised in antiquity as well. Recent studies in classical literature and receptions have emphasised the fantasy-like quality of classics like Homer’s Odyssey, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and Plato’s eschatological myths, while linguists and narratologists have brought to light literary devices that might be used by ancient authors to construct fantastical worlds and mediate the audience’s experience of them. Rarely, however, has the connection been made between the classical and contemporary construction of fantastical worlds, let alone between classics and modern media studies. The overarching aim of the workshop is to launch such an interdisciplinary discussion in search of a comparative, diachronic perspective on fantastical worldbuilding.

Principally, the workshop will focus on the how of fantastical worldbuilding, i.e., on the devices and techniques used in different times and media to create a fantastical world, as well as the ways in which this world is presented as different from yet somehow anchored in reality. 

We invite papers that address one (or more) of the following research questions:

  1. What devices do authors or artists use to construct fantastical worlds? (E.g., common ground management, deixis, the general rendering of time and space)
  2. How are these fantastical worlds anchored to the audience’s actual world, and what devices are used to express this relationship? (E.g., metalepsis, immersive/enactive devices, shifts in the deictic centre)
  3. How do fantastical worlds encourage the audience to reflect on the actual world? (E.g., metaphor, metonymy, contrast)
  4. What differences and similarities exist between the construction of fantastical worlds in different periods and different media?
  5. How are the devices used by ancient authors to construct fantastical worlds reused (consciously or unconsciously) in later times? 

We are interested in contributions from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds that discuss the construction of fantastical worlds in or across different media (e.g., written narratives, drama, film, television, video games). Papers may focus on single narratives, authors, and periods, or discuss fantastical worldbuilding techniques more broadly, e.g., from a theoretical, comparative or reception point of view.

The workshop will take place in Amsterdam on the 30th of June and the 1st of July 2022. Should the state of the pandemic require it, the workshop will be held on the same days as either a hybrid or a virtual event. 

We invite submissions for 25-minute presentations. To register your interest, please submit an anonymous abstract of max. 400 words (excluding references and bibliography) to by the 15th of March 2022. Your name and affiliation should be included in the body of your email. We aim to respond no later than the 15th of April.

This workshop is generously funded by OIKOS, the National Research School in Classical Studies in the Netherlands, and the gravitation project Anchoring Innovation.

Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions.

The organizing team: Caterina Fossi (, Merlijn Breunesse ( and Koen Vacano (